In 1959 the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks) was founded to conserve major areas along the region's rivers. Eventually the regional agency grew to 3 counties, and 3 cities, with each jurisdiction contributing a small per capita fee to support both capital and operating expenses. While this contribution of tax dollars funded 100% of the operations in the early years, it never kept pace with inflation.
Starting in the mid-1960s the agency became an innovator in enterprise operations, and that innovation has continued. Today 85% of the operations of NOVA Parks is funded with enterprise operations, not tax dollars. The growth of this entrepreneurial model has allowed NOVA Parks to continue to grow and develop, conserving more natural areas and historic sites in the process.
Many people have the wrong idea about how park revenue (fees) work. They think this means raising rates and charging people to enter public parks. In reality that is not how it work at NOVA Parks. We look at our fees and prices every year and make small adjustments up and down depending on the market. But in general our rates do not change much over time.We make more money, and serve more of the public, by being attuned to our customers. We must compete for the time and money of our customers. To be successful our facilities, and programs must be attractive. This is a very different model than being largely tax funded. The largely tax supported agencies can do great good, but are at risk of being less responsive to the desires of their customers. I think the enterprise approach has a lot of advantages. One of the great advantages is that when we make money, it is reinvested in improving our facilities and programs. This creates a positive cycle of improvements and performance reinforcing each other.
While we measure many of our performance data in dollars, since the rate are not changing much, a spike up really means we were successful in attracting and serving more of the public.
Here is a snap shot of fiscal year 2014:
- Total users up 9% over last year
- Rental of meeting & event facilities up 23%
- Cultural, Natural and Historic sites up 19%
- Waterparks up 11.6%
- Recreational resources parks up 3%
- Golf - about the same
- Camping - about the same